posted on Mon 11 Feb 2019 3:50 PM
Children and Armed Conflict: Arria-formula Meeting on “Protection of Boys and Girls in Shrinking Humanitarian Space”

Tomorrow morning (12 February) at 10 am in Conference Room 6 there will be an open Arria-formula meeting on the protection of children affected by armed conflict in contexts where humanitarian space is shrinking, with a specific focus on the Central African Republic (CAR). It has been organised by Belgium, the CAR, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and France, in partnership with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. All UN Member States, Permanent Observers and non-governmental organisations are invited to attend. Following introductory remarks by Gamba, there will be presentations from Ambassador Ambroisine Kpongo of the CAR; Nathalie Ben Zakour Man, Senior Child Protection Advisor (CPA) in the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA); and Hichem Khadhraoui, Director of Operations, Geneva Call. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium) will moderate.

According to a concept note circulated by Belgium, the chair of the Children and Armed Conflict Working Group, the aim of the Arria-formula meeting is to share experiences on how engagement on the children and armed conflict agenda can help to open up humanitarian space, understand how such engagement can strengthen the protection of children in armed conflict, and explore ways in which engagement on protection of children issues can contribute to confidence-building measures, possibly within peace processes. It will also focus on how member states can support the UN in protecting children through enhanced child protection capacities in areas of limited access.

In her introductory remarks, Gamba may refer to the 2018 Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict (S/2018/462), which provided information on the significant increase in violations against children, which were largely perpetrated by non-state armed groups. Given the focus on the CAR, Gamba may talk about the 2018 action plan signed between the UN and the Mouvement patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), part of the ex-Séléka coalition.  The MPC was the first party in the CAR conflict currently listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict to sign an action plan with the UN to end and prevent violations against children.

Ambassador Kpongo is expected to talk about the steps the CAR government has taken to protect children affected by conflict. These include: the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2017, the establishment of the Special Criminal Court to address accountability and the inclusion of children and armed conflict language in peace negotiations. In this context, some participants may stress the importance of the active engagement of governments when operating space for humanitarian actors is shrinking. She may also refer to the peace agreement signed on 6 February by the CAR government and 14 armed groups in Bangui. Secretary-General António Guterres encouraged “all stakeholders to live up to their commitments in the implementation period”.

Zakour Man is expected to provide insights into how dialogue with parties to the conflict has helped protect children. In the CAR, 11,000 children have been separated from armed groups since 2014. In this context, there is likely to be interest in how CPAs are able to engage in dialogue with parties to conflict on violations against children at a time when humanitarian space is shrinking. Zakour Man may also reflect on what it takes to sustain dialogue with armed groups and the challenges that they faced in the CAR.

The concept note highlights positive developments in the CAR that have been possible in spite of a volatile situation due to the engagement of child protection advisors with armed groups. They include:

  • signing of an Action Plan in 2018 between the UN and the Mouvement patriotrique pour la Centrafrique (MPC) covering the four violations for which the party is listed (recruitment and use, killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals);
  • issuance of command orders by Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) and the Union pour la paix en Centrafrique (UPC) barring the recruitment of children in 2017;
  • release of almost 1,000 children from armed groups in 2018.

Khadhraoui is expected to address Geneva Call’s engagement with armed non-state actors, highlighting both its successes as well as the challenges in engaging with these groups. He may also talk about how Geneva Call engages with the UN system and its recent mission to the CAR in December 2018.